RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that he wants to accelerate legal possession of marijuana this year.

His July 1 target date is three years earlier than planned.

Northam is also pushing for changes “that advance public health protections, set clear expectations for labor protections in the cannabis industry, and begin to seal criminal records immediately.”

He said, “Our commonwealth is committed to legalizing marijuana in an equitable way. Virginia will become the 15th state to legalize marijuana — and these changes will ensure we do it with a focus on public safety, public health, and social justice. I am grateful to the advocates and legislators for their dedicated work on this important issue, and I look forward to this legislation passing next month.”

Northam points to a report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission issued in November 2020.

The report found that Black Virginians were more than three times as likely to be arrested for simple possession of marijuana.

He said data from Virginia courts show that trend has continued since the simple possession of marijuana was “decriminalized,” punishable with a $25 civil fine, on July 1, 2020.

Northam said that fact drove his proposal to advance legalization by three years, and that he remains committed to working with legislators and advocates to repair past harm.

The governor’s proposed changes would allow households to grow up to four plants beginning on July 1.

The amendments would require the plants to be labeled with identification information, out of sight from public view, and out of range of individuals under the age of 21.

Credit @ Adobe Stock